A quick trip to Yosemite

posted Jul 16, 2018, 12:17 PM by Paul Wagner
This past weekend our schedule opened up, and we were able to get up to Yosemite for a few days.  It was a shorter than usual trip, for a couple of reasons, but we still got a chance to get out and see this amazing park again.  Before we started, we knew that M is still nursing some tendonitis in her foot---so that meant a relatively low stress kind of visit.  We picked out a few day-hikes (including a couple that were just wandering around a nice area) and thought that we would play it by ear for the rest of the trip. 

We arrived on Friday morning with the hopes of snagging a campsite somewhere in the park.  Happily, we got one at Porcupine Flat, the first place we really looked.  Later that day, when we drove past the Tuolumne Meadows campground about 10:45, there were still sites available there in the middle of July!  Once settled into our campsite, we drove on up to Tuolumne Meadows and decided that we would take our chances on getting a next day Wilderness permit to go backpacking. 

We knew we couldn't tackle much in the way of uphill hiking, so we really only had one option:  Lyell Canyon.  If there were permits available for that very popular trailhead, great.  If not, we would stay in the campground do our day-hikes instead.  When we arrived at the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Office at 11 a.m. on the dot for our "next day first come first served permits," there were about 25 people in front of us in line--all getting a very efficient and thorough backpacking briefing from a ranger.  We joined the group, and when the presentation was over, the ranger came down the line and asked about destinations.  When we told her about Lyell Canyon, she checked her chart--and checked us in!   A few minutes later we had our permit.  Amazing.  The only downside was that the weather called for 50% chance of thunderstorms.  Not ideal.  But we had until tomorrow to make a final decision on the hike.

That afternoon we stopped at Pothole Dome and took the use trail over to the river to see the Cascades. This is a nearly dead-flat hike with a nice pay-off at the end, and the whole thing can't be three miles round trip.  A perfect way to see if we could tackle anything more ambitious tomorrow.  Besides, the weather today was supposed to be even worse than tomorrow, so it would give us an idea of what to expect.

And everything went fine.  No injuries, no real pain, and I caught a few trout in the river, spotted lots of deer on the far side, and took a few photos of one of my favorite views of Tuolumne Meadows.  A good day.  That night we chatted for quite a while with our campground host Doug--who loves backpacking and sharing stories about it--and headed to bed for an early night.  What a nice day. 

The next morning we were up early, and by about eight o'clock we had stored all of our food in the bear boxes at the Wilderness Office, then parked le Vin Blanc at the trailhead parking a bit further along the road.  The weather was warm and humid, but the skies were clear, and we had hopes of a nice day--especially since the day before had only offered some overcast and very light sprinkles.  For the rest of the morning, we slowly and majestically worked out way up Lyell Canyon, taking it easy, not hurrying, and trying to baby M's sore foot. 

And we were successful.  We crossed Ireland Creek, ate lunch down by the river, and thought over our options.  I hoped to cross the river and set up camp on the far side, where there would be fewer people.  But M didn't like the idea of a waist high crossing in that cold river.  So we explored a bit further down the trail, and up the hill, and finally found a nice spot to camp.  It was nap time.  We set up our tent, stored our gear, and took a quick look at the darkening skies.  Hmmmm.

No sooner had we climbed into the tent than it began to sprinkle.  We weren't worried, as we've been in many showers in the past, and enjoyed a delightful rest while the forest got refreshed. 

But not today.  Soon thunder was cracking around us on all side.  Big, loud thunder.  And cloudbursts of rain pummeled the tent.  Hmmm.  50% turned out to be 100%--and these were serious storms.  Cold wind hammered the tent, the rain pounded down, and there were times when less than a full second elapsed between the flash of lightning and the explosion of thunder.  We were in the middle of it! 

And that's when we noticed that my old tent that had served us pretty darn well in the past (including rain in Cloud Canyon in Kings Canyon) was no longer up to the task.  It was leaking.  And this was not the kind of rain for a tent that was leaking.  We bundled up inside (M wearing her rain gear) and waited out the worst of the storm.  By 3:00 the rain was now just a steady rainfall, and the thunder and lightning seemed to be moving away. That was good.  But there were more dark clouds on the horizon, and we agreed that we would wait another fifteen minutes before making the decision to bail.  Then we waited another fifteen minutes.  They we agreed that we would decide by 4 p.m. 

At 4:15 things were not a lot better.  The rain was lighter, but didn't look like it was going to end in the near future.  And we knew that if he hiked out, we could easily make it by dark.  Our only real concern was M's foot.  As long as her foot held out, we would be fine, and sleeping warm and dry.  If not....well, we weren't sure.  No camping was allowed within four miles of the trailhead, which left us few alternatives. 

Like any good husband, I left the decision to her.  And at 4:10 she decided.  "Let's get out of here."  About five minutes later we were on the trail, hiking through a light rain.

And of course, as we hiked, the weather improved.  The trail was muddy and puddled, and every branch and bush loosed a cascade of water if we touched it.  But it was also beautiful and fresh smelling, and step by step we slowly hiked back to the trailhead. 

By the time we had gone a couple of miles, we were feeling a bit more optimistic.  M's foot was holding up fine, and the sprinkles we saw were a far cry from the darker clouds and downpours further up the canyon---where we could still hear occasional claps of thunder, and see the dark clouds.  We were also meeting lots of hikers who had started out much later in the day...and they all asked us about the weather up the canyon. 

Sunlight began to work its way through the clouds, and the views were spectacular.  In fact, as we hiked through the late afternoon, we found ourselves re-thinking our usual daily schedule when backpacking.  Instead of hiking in the morning and early afternoon, and taking the late afternoon and evening off, maybe we should do more hiking later in the day.  It was stunning.

And there were lots of animals out and about.  We saw more marmots than we've ever seen in our lives, including lots of families with little ones.  And a host of smaller rodents as well, from squirrels to pikas to ground squirrels.  They were all out for dinner.  Closer to Tuolumne Meadows we also saw a lovely buck with a full set of antlers.  And by the time we got to the trailhead, we added a black bear to the wildlife sighting list.  Pretty darn cool. 

But it was about two miles from the trailhead where M's slow pace began to takes its toll, and those last two miles were hard.  We slowed down, we snacked and drank plenty of water, and finally, about 7:45, we walked across the last bridge, dodged the bear, and climbed into our van.  For a day that was supposed to be a gentle re-introduction to life on the trail, we'd somehow managed to hike about twelve miles with full packs. 

That was not the plan. 

And now we had to find a place to sleep in Yosemite at 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday night in the middle of July.  We were not optimistic when we hit the road.   Looking to the West, we saw a towering cloud of smoke and knew that a big fire was burning over there....sigh.   And then as we pulled into the entrance to Porcupine Flat, we found that the "Campground Full" sign was still not displayed!  We saw a campsite, and took it immediately.  Then P drove to chat with Doug about what might be available.  It turned out that there was exactly one campsite free.  We took it.  Unbelievable luck!  We cooked our dinner, ate it, and fell into bed.  Given our concerns, it had been quite a day.

The next day dawned clear and sunny, and we drove through the park and enjoyed the views. We drove to our cabin, passing a bald eagle nesting on top of a telephone pole near Moccasin, and added that to the wildlife list for this trip. 

In retrospect, we had done a couple of really silly things on this trip.  Because we didn't really expect to get exactly the permit we needed, we weren't really expecting to do much backpacking. After all, with M's sore foot, what were the chances?  So we hadn't really checked out our gear, or made sure that we were ready for the weather.  And normally, with a forecast of 50% thunderstorms, we would have waited a day and left the crazy weather to people who wanted it more.  But since we already had the permit, we figured we'd just play it by ear and see how it went.

And that's how it went.  Ah well.  We've already put in an order for a newer and certainly waterproof tent, even while we've dried the old one out and started to try and fix it.  And the good news is that in the days that followed, M's foot seems to be OK after all that work.  And P's sore knee seems like a distant memory.

There are still a lot of days left in the summer...and we plan on taking advantage of them!